Glenn Youngkin is off to a strong start on schools in Virginia

Youngkin’s assertions that parents should have a say in what schools teach inspired the broad-minded pundits at MSNBC to paroxysms of rage, and led to thundering denunciations of the soft-spoken suburban dad’s purported extremism.

LIBERAL MEDIA SCOLDS YOUNGKIN FOR FULFILLING CAMPAIGN PROMISE TO END MASK MANDATES IN SCHOOLS

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin greets supporters at a reception Friday Jan. 14, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin greets supporters at a reception Friday Jan. 14, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Well, over the weekend, Youngkin took office and the early signs are promising. They suggest that he won’t be bullied into abandoning his commitments or be baited into over-the-top culture war.

For starters, he hired two principled, savvy, experienced grown-ups to lead his education efforts. He landed Aimee Guidera, former chief of the Data Quality Campaign, to serve as secretary of education, and Wyoming’s veteran schools chief Jillian Balow as K-12 superintendent. Guidera is a straight-shooting, genial conservative who’s passionate about academic rigor and honest data. Under Balow, an outspoken champion of parent power, Wyoming was one of the few states that kept its schools open last year. Guidera and Balow aren’t prone to seeking out culture clashes, but both have shown themselves willing to stand up to the teacher unions, leftist ideologues, and the education blob.

Then, on his first day, Youngkin delivered a state of the commonwealth speech that former Florida governor Jeb Bush aptly cheered in an emailed statement, lauding Youngkin’s emphasis on the “potential of every student,” importance of expanding access “to a quality education,” and need for schools to be “responsive to the voices of parents.”

Youngkin followed his inaugural remarks by issuing three sensible executive orders on schooling.

The first directs the superintendent of schools to ensure that the state’s education officials are not promoting doctrines that vilify classes of individuals based on race or ethnicity in contravention of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The state superintendent is to take a series of specific steps, such as reviewing Department of Education policies, cultural competence training, websites, and best practices, and, within 90 days, recommend appropriate responses. The superintendent is also directed to seek opportunities to “increase the transparency and honesty of” K-12 performance measures and to assess the rigor of the state’s proficiency standards.

The second order ended his predecessor’s mask mandate for schools. While people of goodwill may inevitably disagree about how to interpret the science and about the advisability of ongoing school mask mandates, we’ve arrived at a juncture where public officials can reasonably judge it time to empower parents and students to make their own choices. Youngkin’s order sensibly discusses the science, makes a substantive case, and notes that the mandate no longer reflected changing scientific and medical realities (for instance, the mandate prominently explains that children under 12 are ineligible for vaccines, a fact that hasn’t been true for two months.) Agree or not, it’d be tough to dispute that Youngkin approached the question with anything less than the seriousness he promised.

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The third order addressed a horrific, widely publicized situation in Loudoun County, Virginia, in which the superintendent and school board hid facts and “knowingly lied to parents” in order to cover up a sexual assault that a 15-year-old perpetrated on school grounds. Youngkin directs the Attorney General to conduct an investigation and “hold accountable” officials who may have violated the law.

There will be lots of hot takes on Youngkin from social media impresarios on left and right, all eager to repackage his actions in service of their preferred culture war narrative. But Youngkin is off to a strong start doing what he said he would do, and it’s likely to be well-received by Virginians who want schools to do their job, recognize that the COVID situation has evolved, stop pushing ideological agendas, and pay more attention to academic rigor and student learning.

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